St Louis Rams Team Report
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo knows the team's defense has to get better. He also knows all the problems can't be fixed in one year.
Still, as the Rams prepared to get their first on-field look at the team's rookies at minicamp, a lot of the eyes will be trained on three players that arrived in the draft.
Following the selection of tackle Jason Smith with the second overall pick, the Rams added a player from each of the defensive units in the next three rounds.
The linebacker was James Laurinaitis, who came in the second round; cornerback Bradley Fletcher was a third-round pick, and defensive tackle Darell Scott was selected in the fourth round.
The Rams hope Laurinaitis will emerge as a starter in the middle, and be the quarterback of the defense. Scott should immediately be the backup, possibly to both tackles Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan. Fletcher, who wasn't a fulltime starter until his senior season, will be competing for the nickel-back spot at the outset. Some of his competition will come from second-year player Justin King, who was making quick progress last year before seeing his season end because of a toe injury suffered in the first preseason game.
Of course, after Scott was picked, the draft switched back to defense, with the next three choices on that side of the ball.
After the draft was over, Spagnuolo joked about the way things went the defensive way after the drafting of Smith.
"I was thinking about that walking down here," he said. "Bang, bang, bang."
But, just like that (bang, bang, bang), it went in the other direction.
Said a smiling general manager Billy Devaney: "It was kind of a stealth (move). (He) never said it, but then all of a sudden the draft's going on, and I said, 'This thing's starting to get away from us. We've got to get some offensive guys.'"
Those offensive guys were fifth-round receiver Brooks Foster, sixth-round quarterback Keith Null and seventh-round running back Chris Ogbonnaya.
The bottom line is that Devaney and Spagnuolo knew they needed to add as many good players as possible.
When asked if there was anything the team wasn't able to accomplish in the draft, Devaney said, "I don't think so because we didn't come in over the last couple days saying we have to have or this is what we really have to have coming out of this. We're just hell-bent, as we said before, bringing in many good players that were going to be part of this process. It wasn't a case where we have to have one receiver, we have to have a quarterback, we have to take a tackle. It wasn't anything like that at all. So, we're like 31 other teams, we're pleased with the way it went.
"We missed on some guys; it never goes perfect. You get close to some guys and they get taken and you get (ticked) off, but that happens. It didn't happen that often. I think for the most part it went according to plan and overall we're really happy. Now we have to see if these guys can play, if we were right in our evaluation."
rookie tackle Jason Smith will line up on the right side, with Alex Barron staying on the left. Barron was a left tackle in college, but has played right tackle since being drafted by the Rams in the first round in 2005. The lone exception was 2007 when he moved to left tackle in the second game of the season after Orlando Pace was injured in the season opener.
Barron, entering the final year of his contract, was switched to left tackle after Pace was released in March
Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "The way we begin is not always the way it kind of unwinds, but I think it will kind of be a more natural progression for him (Smith). He's played both (tackle spots), Alex has played both, so it gives you a little bit of flexibility."
After being drafted, Smith said, "I'm a football player, and if it was tackle, tight end, defensive end, nose tackle, D-tackle, water boy, I didn't mind doing what I'm asked to do. I do what needs to be done for us. I don't think about me, I think about we."
—QB Keith Null's position coach in college was former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf.
Said Null, "Coach Leaf was a great guy. He just knows the game. As everyone knows, he tore it up. That was his thing. So it was great to have him around, have that experience and he really taught me a lot. It's great to have somebody who's done it and who's been successful at it. It was a blessing to have him there."
The irony is that Rams general manager Billy Devaney was with the Chargers in 1998 when they selected Leaf with the second overall pick in the draft. Leaf wasn't ready for the NFL from a personality standpoint, and didn't last long.
When was asked if he talked to Leaf about Null, Devaney stammered and said, "No, I did not talk to Ryan. I don't want to say you can't hold it against the guy, but Ryan was there. Who knows, maybe Ryan did a good job or worked with him for awhile. I don't know, but it wasn't a positive for him, but we certainly didn't hold it against him that Ryan was there. It was kind of weird the way it worked out though."
Later, Devaney was told Null said "I guess it was just a God thing," when asked how it was that he wasn't recruited by Division I schools out of high school.
Said Devaney, "God had a funny sense of humor putting him with Ryan Leaf."
—General manager Billy Devaney said the evaluation process of players continues into training camp. While he insisted it's not imperative the team adds a veteran wide receiver, the Rams will be watching players that become available in the days ahead.
"Regardless of position, if there is somebody that comes free between now and training camp, we'll shift gears," Devaney said. "After the college (undrafted) guys are signed, then we start focusing on and go back to the pro personnel side again and just start watching the waiver wires and go through it. Say a team took two receivers, one in the first round and one in the fourth round, well that means that those guys are going to be on the team.
"Two receivers that were on that team last year are probably going to be let go. So we kind of go through everybody's roster, handicap where they are going to have excess and start watching those guys. This process goes on all year-round."
—Devaney took exception to the notion that cornerback Bradley Fletcher was a "risk" pick in the third round because he didn't start fulltime until last season at Iowa.
Said Devaney, "(He) played really well this year, played well in the East-West game. He was outstanding so it wasn't like we took a flier on a he
ight, weight, speed guy. We really think that he's a good, solid football player."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not really sure. I guess it was just a God thing. He had a place for me to go and I guess it was just His doing. I had pretty good numbers in high school. No one really got on me. I guess I just sort of slipped through the cracks." — QB Keith Null, when asked why only Division II schools recruited him in high school.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
MEDICAL WATCH: CB Justin King will be somewhat limited in minicamp as he still recovers from toe surgery last summer ... S Craig Dahl was expected to practice once a day in minicamp following knee surgery while with the Giants last season.